Dr. Stanley Aronson

Dr. Stanley AronsonThe travails of newly arrived immigrants and the tragedies that marked their first few decades in the slums of lower Manhattan are well-documented by writers who placed more faith in authentic documentation than in nuanced mythology. There are, indeed, many Jewish immigrants, who arrived about the onset of the 20th century and established themselves within months of arrival. Their children then attended college and their great-grandchildren were appointed as judges on some high court. But for every one such “successful” family, for every glicklicheh geschichte, there were at least five other families who lived their abbreviated lives in unforgiving poverty, subjected to a sequence of medical problems while struggling in urban anonymity. 

Dr. Stanley AronsonThe English translation of the Bible, often referred to as the King James Version (KJV) of 1611, brought the noun, corruption, and particularly its verb, corrupt, into the mainstream of ethical discourse and community standards. Corruption had then arisen from near-obscurity, been transformed into a common human attribute and now represented an impediment to one’s spiritual health.

Corruption, formerly defining an adverse state of affairs, further evolved into a synonym for man’s imperfect, corruptible nature. Corruption then reached into the marketplace becoming an occasional adjective for shady mercantile interactions, egregious manufacturing schemes and even politics. Where corruption had once lingered at the margins of society, it now became central to the affairs of mankind, the embodiment of human evil. Corruption was then viewed as an inevitable event in the progress of an evolving society.

Dr. Stanley Aronson

It was once said, in the distant past, that an adolescent son should be advised to seek entrance to the profession of medicine if his morals were too malleable for the clergy, his stamina too fragile for the military and his arithmetical skills too rudimentary for the world of accounting. The character lapses underlying the choice of a profession such as medicine, however, are rarely documented, except perhaps in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas or the wellsprings of Jewish humor. 

Amusement was not on the required roster of life’s essentials for the tenement dwellers of New York City during the depression years of 1929-’39. The word amusement was then applied narrowly, describing parks in such shady enclaves as Coney Island. During a time when limitless access to diversions was but an electronic dream, self-generated family entertainment emerged as a vital element in ensuring domestic tranquility (“The family that plays together, stays together.”).

Dr. Stanley AronsonFew things in life are more subject to change than the range of therapies and palliative interventions that the modern physician can offer. Older physicians will recall that death had the controlling hand in the terminally ill patient; and when death became imminent, a physician’s skill was measured by the degree to which the dying process was eased. It was a quiet, non-heroic encounter, often with nurses, a rabbi and family sharing in a respectful acceptance of the impending biological reality.

These newly devised life-extending measures have now prolonged the lives of many thousands. But by creating an expanded netherworld between life and death, the medical interventions have blurred the frontiers that separated the two. And, in so doing, they have placed a greater moral burden upon those physicians who now possess the means to alter, if only temporarily, these boundaries.